There's nothing fun to do and no safe place to go, teens and parents told
the Chesterton Board of Zoning Appeals on Thursday.
Due to the town's publication error, Ralph Osborn has to wait until a
special meeting May 6 at 6 p.m. to find out whether he can open a teen
recreational center at 136 Grant St.
During last night's public hearing, which will be continued May 6, comment
was overwhelmingly in support of Osborn's plans to open Josh’s Place, where
youth ages 12-17 can enjoy activities like pool and air-hockey, and special
events like X-Box or PS3 tournaments and themed seasonal/sports parties.
Teens Abbi Milligan and Emily Tezak, and 14-year-old Josh Osborn, after whom
the teen center would be named, gave the BZA separate petitions of support
totalling they said more than 300 signatures obtained at Chesterton High
School and Chesterton Middle School.
Local teachers and parents also urged the BZA to approve the use variance
the teen center requires in its Business-2 zoning district.
Ruth Morisette called the plans wonderful. “There’s nothing in this town
(for kids) to do but drugs. There is a very, very big drug problem in this
area. This will get (kids) off the street.” She also said local teens tend
to group into cliques and Josh's Place will enable them to meet and know new
people outside their own circle.
Whitney Arrizola, 21, said when she was in school bullying was a big problem
and the teen center will be an opportunity for kids to connect in a positive
CHS teacher David Milligan, who counsels teens how to avoid substance abuse,
said Ralph Osborn has a passion for kids and Milligan's own teens are
excited about Osborn's plans. “I know they'd be safe because I know Ralph.”
Will Thompson, co-owner of T&T Gaming in downtown Chesterton, called Josh's
Place an exciting concept that needs to happen because the alternatives for
bored teens aren’t good ones.
However, Thompson later expressed concern under remonstrance over children
walking or on bikes cutting through Thomas Park across the railroad tracks
to reach Josh's Place on their north side. BZA president Kim Goldak asked
Osborn and his attorney, Greg Babcock, to address the matter May 6.
BZA member Fred Owens also asked that the duo address noise from the
building where dances and live bands occassionally are planned. Owens did
note a dance club and arcade are allowed in the B-2 zone.
Member Rodney Corder said he wants to know how Osborn would help enforce the
town curfew, which he pledged to observe, that imposes different curfews for
Entry to Josh’s Place will be by an admission fee or paid membership after
showing a valid school identifcation card, or a parent/guardian has
submitted ID confirmation and age.
Board member Sig Niepokoj, referring to a recent melee in Portage, asked
Osborn to describe May 6 how he will prevent “outside influences” from
causing problems here.
Osborn put the word out loud and clear Thursday: there will be a
zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drugs, alcohol, smoking, loitering,
fighting or misconduct of any kind. He pledged to work with Chesterton
police, who will be authorized to conduct random sweeps with a K-9 unit.
“If you get in a fight, I don't want you back; we are not here to do drugs,
hang out and have a bad reputation," Osborn warned. He said he plans to
invest about $35,000 in the business and he wants it to succeed.
Goldak said she wants more information about food that will be served at the
teen center, and asked what formula Osborn will use to determine how much
adult security/supervision he needs for teen-center events.
Parking and traffic have been a key concern in reviewing Osborn's petition
even though most of the teens are too young to drive. He is asking for a
variance to have 41 parking spaces in a lot north of the Grant Street
building or 42 less than town code requires.
Osborn said he's worked with Chesterton Police on a traffic plan for the
teen center. Babcock said overflow parking could be directed to a grassy lot
south of Grant Street east of the South Shore railroad cars. The latter's
owner, John Klikus, by letter said he has no problem with the teen center
but won't permit parking for it on his property.
Don Johnson, who spoke in support of the teen center during public comment,
said he operated a martial arts school in Chesterton for several years with
sometimes 200 students yet the parking and pick-up were orderly.
A second letter, from Carolyn Johnson, was received in support of Osborn’s
petition. Eighteen people were present in the audience Thursday.
Osborn said he's been working on his plans with an architect since August,
2009 and chose the 6,000 square-foot Grant Street building because it is
one-story with no dark corners so the teens can be well supervised.
Osborn became emotional when concluding his prepared remarks to the BZA
saying he's tried to touch the interests of every teen in the community, and
he wants every parent to feel comfortable with their child in his care.